The reading this week is about Jesus being invited to dinner. I find that a lot of people like to question the pharisee's motivation in inviting Jesus, but I think that's a red herring. If we can make the pharisees the bad guys in the story then what Jesus says to the pharisees doesn't really apply to us. We, after all, are the good guys. We follow Jesus. We do all the right things.
The truth is that the pharisees, like us are a mixed bunch. Some days they were close to getting it, other days they were way off. Pretty much like us.
So Jesus shows up for dinner and starts saying the kind of thing that make hosts cringe and swear they are never throwing another dinner party. He talks about place. Not physical place as much as social place. How important are we? Do other people think we're as important as we think we are? I think that Jesus saw at that party, as he would see at any of our gatherings, the kind of jostling for place that both reassures and terrifies us.
What if people don't like me? What if they do? Can I keep it up?
What Jesus is suggesting is not just a face saving strategy. Taking the lower seat may result in me being left in the lower seat - humiliating. I'm not worth as much as I thought I was. Rather what I hear him suggesting is that I am fighting for a seat at the wrong table. This isn't about my place in the worldly hierarchy of popularity and power. It is about my relationship with God.
If I measure myself against God, of course I am going to take the lowest seat. That's all I deserve, if I even deserve that. What God does is move me up to the head table, not because I belong there, but because God wants me there. The comments about the guest list are another hint. None of those people can reciprocate with anything but love, just as I can't give God anything but my love.
So the parable lifts me out of my concern for place in this world by assuring me that I have a place in God's world. Once I'm freed of that, I am freed to serve without fear of damaging my place in society. The only place that matters is my place with God.